Welcome to Wordy Wednesday! Today I promised to post an excerpt from one of my novels, your choice. You guys chose COCA, my current YA contemporary project. So here you go! An excerpt from the never-before-seen first chapter of COCA.
Keep in mind, as always, that this is a rough draft version of whatever the final product may be, and it's only undergone a (relatively) small amount of editing at this point.
Cecily’s entire extended family, plus her godmother, will arrive any moment now for her quinceañera, and I cannot stop screaming at her.
We stand in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom. Cecily swallows once, twice. Sharp and fiery tears prick at the corners of our eyes.
Oh Dios, I say in disgust. You’re such a crybaby. You want to mess up your makeup more, is that it?
Cecily gasps in and out in an attempt to calm herself. I cross my own smudgy arms from within the blue-black mass of her thoughts, which dance like smoke around me, and examine our reflection. Cecily was excited about this at first, as any self-respecting Mexicana would be, and spent hours helping Dulce, her mother, pick out her dress and makeup and decorations and music. But as we’ve come closer to the moment, I’ve caught more and more mistakes in the plan. Specifically, that Cecily is useless and will mess this up the way she always does.
The dress wouldn’t be bad if it weren’t for Cecily’s stomach rounding out the middle. The pale pink complements our only-barely tanned skin and dark hair, and the fluttery fabric of the A-line might turn us fairylike but for that extra weight. The heart neckline accents our breasts. But I regret allowing her to go sleeveless. Her arms don’t look so trim.
I reach up to pinch them, then down to our stomach. Cecily almost doesn’t notice the way our hands move to calculate the exact density of the fat on her body, though she does feel the swoop of sickness our stomach gives in response to the calculated result. This has become habit for us in the past few months.
Rumple the dress a little in the middle, I tell Cecily. She does, pinching and adjusting the fabric until I can imagine that, just possibly, no one will notice.
Your face, though, I say. Tienes la cara como una nevera por detrás.
She bites into our lip. We have been working on her makeup for nearly an hour now, and she’s not shown even a modicum of her usual skill. So far, I’ve made her fix our face three times over, and this after a professional application at the local salon, but the smattering of pimples on her forehead still scream out of our reflection into my sight. If anything, they’ve become redder.
So ugly, I say. These people haven’t seen you in years, and this is what you have to present them? They will laugh you onto the street. This is supposed to be your perfect day!
I poke at the smoggy base of her mind with my fingernails. Where the rest of me is made up of the same smoke as Cecily’s thoughts, my fingers grey and formless up to the tip, these nails are diamond edged and cut deep. I repeat my remonstration louder and louder, shouting the words into a void full of white noise until I drown out everything else. Our chest pinches.
“Stop!” Cecily cries. She backs away from the mirror and holds our hands over our face, but never actually touches the skin for fear of ruining what fragments of the makeup pass my examination. “Stop. Just stop. I can’t do any better than this. This is all I have!”
The doorbell rings as if to emphasize her point.
Fine, I mutter. But everyone will look at your forehead all day.
Cecily picks up her pink beaded bag and staggers out of the room to greet our first arrivals.
They come in quick succession: Abuelo and Abuela Olivares, Abuelo Garcia, Dulce’s brother and sisters and all their children, Cecily’s older sisters and their children. Only Amie is absent, at college on the East Coast studying business. Her absence emphasizes the awkwardness of the meeting, especially when Cristofer, Cecily’s father, slinks in. The Olivares relatives, who make up the bulk of the party, shoot him suspicious looks every time he’s around. Abuela Olivares, in particular, blames Cristofer for pulling Dulce away from their once-tight family group and their traditional Mexican ways. She is not wrong. If she knew how rarely Cecily’s family attends Mass nowadays, she would have a conniption.
Cecily’s older sisters Marcella and Elisabet and their husbands ease the tension by speaking with Cristofer quietly to the side while the rest of the family showers Cecily with more attention than she can handle. Our forehead burns red hot where their eyes, undoubtedly, touch. I clench our fists by our side. Cecily keeps looking over at her father, and to her mother, in the center of the crowd, wishing herself with them instead. But Cristofer has never had the affection for Cecily that he has for her older sisters. Though his posture shows discomfort with being forced out into the open, the girls bring a bright smile Cecily hasn’t seen since Amie left for college. Even Veronica, who’s still at home, gets a half-smile when she joins them.
They are more beautiful than you, I explain. More successful and fun and interesting. They’ve got so much more to them than you do.
Cecily chews on the inside of our cheek. Normally she’d fight back, reminding herself of all the things she’s come to understand in the past year about Cristofer’s faults and how they play into her relationship with him, but she’s too worn down. Already. This doesn’t bode well for the celebration.
Cecily’s godmother, Camila Escalante, is the last to arrive. She’s the one whom we saw the longest ago, and the one Cecily wants most to impress. Camila, once Dulce’s best friend and even somewhat close to Cristofer, moved with her family to Texas when Cecily was ten and fell out of contact with them. The idea of a godmother has become mystical to Cecily, like in fairytales. Perhaps, Cecily thinks, Camila will swoop in today and fix everything. She will make Cecily beautiful and strong, she will bring the Garcia family back together again, and she will become the mother figure Cecily needs to confide in.
Even Cinderella was beautiful and sweet before her godmother swooped in, I remind her. What makes you think Camila wants you? You’re not even really Catholic anymore.
Cecily shakes me off and goes to greet Camila.
“Madrina.” She grasps Camila’s hands. I can’t help but compare the two pairs. Cecily’s new, pearly manicure looks ridiculous next to Camila’s carefully maintained fingers, which are painted over with jewels. Camila, with her exact beauty and champagne floor-length gown, is somehow both more and less intimidating than we expected. She no longer towers over us, but the lines in her browned face reveal a strictness of character that Cecily struggles to live up to. I would know. “I’m so pleased to see you.”
“Cuchura.” Camila’s face relaxes, but her eyes remain serious and fixed. “You have grown so lovely. I am happy to be here for your quinceañera. I hope to be a true support in this moment of your becoming a woman, with all the responsibility and sacredness it brings.”
We straighten up.
Responsibility and sacredness? I mutter. Who is she kidding?
Dulce swoops in to rescue her daughter. Taking our hand in her own, she announces, “It’s time to head over to the church for the special thanksgiving Mass.” Then she leads Cecily out from the crush of people.
Our chest loosens so abruptly it hurts.
The Garcias couldn’t afford a limo on top of the other quinceañera expenses, so Cecily rides to the chapel with Dulce and Cristofer in the family carcacha, the others following in a caravan. At the St. Clement I Catholic Church, the rest of Cecily’s party joins us—a gratefully small group thanks to the fifteen minutes Cecily spent crying and begging her mother to keep the numbers down. Besides the family, only a few members of the local Latino community are invited. Cecily’s court of honor is comprised of four male and three female cousins she barely knows, plus her best and only friend, Phoebe. To balance out the damas and chambelanes, Dulce insisted that one of her friends’ sons, Jalen, be included as well. Veronica, the only one of Cecily’s sisters young enough to feasibly be included, declined, so the number remains at nine. The only one Cecily wants to see is Phoebe—and Phoebe, naturally, is the only one absent even after ten minutes of waiting.
She thinks this is all estupido, I suggest as the priest begins the service. That’s why she didn’t come.
Cecily resists the urge to bite our pink-flushed nails, and her attention soon shifts from her worries about Phoebe into following all the sections of Mass. The family knows how vital it is that, for the Olivares and Camila both, they act like more regular attendees of Mass than they actually are. Cecily has spent weeks studying the liturgies and rites so she won’t slip up. The course of this Mass is different from a usual one, it being an act of thanksgiving rather than sacramental, but Cecily still fears making a mistake. The pressure makes our heart skip beats.
Don’t mess up, don’t mess up, don’t mess up! I skip around her mind in a semblance of the waltzes she has been practicing as I sing the words.